When is the Best Time to Ask a Client for a Case Study?

BY Joel Klettke
August 13, 2016

Back in junior high school, I was the kid with the worst possible timing.

See, there were girls I dreamed of hesitantly putting my arm around while watching the latest PG 13 movie and sipping back an ice cold Tahiti Treat (boy, I miss those), but I never got the timing right.

I either blurted my feelings out too soon (“Nice to meet you. Wanna be my girlfriend?!”) or way too late (“I heard you liked me last year and even though you’re in love with Billy Sanders now, I was thinking…”)


When it comes to asking for case studies, your timing may be just as bad.

If you’re unsure when to ask for a case study, you may be pushing too early and scaring clients off or waiting until the experience is no longer fresh.

The important thing to realize is that there is no perfect time, but there are certainly moments that are better than others. There are also things you can do proactively to make opportunities to ask more common.

I’m going to walk you through a system you can use to know when to ask – and make a “Yes” more likely when you do.

1. Map out the Buyer’s Journey

What you’re looking for here are four critical points:

  • “Approval Point” – The moment the client signs on and the relationship officially begins.
  • “Implementation Point” – the moment the solution has been delivered in full and a client can weigh up their first impressions.
  • “Attribution Point” – where the customer has had a sufficient time to weigh up the results of your work, and
  • “Expiration Point” – the time at which the experience is too far in the rear view to speak in a detailed way about the process.

For example, if you’re a home renovator, your “Delivery Point” might be 60 days – the moment you’re finished renovating their kitchen. Most vendors make the mistake of asking for the case study HERE, where first impressions are all they have to go on.

The “Attribution Point” might be 30 days after that, when your client has had a chance to live in and enjoy the space – giving them deeper results they can attribute back to you.

The “Expiration” point would almost certainly be a year later, when they’ve forgotten the specifics of what it was like to work with you at the beginning.

For a digital agency, that timeline will be different:

  • The “Delivery Point” might be 3 months in, when they core of the strategy has been implemented.
  • The “Attribution Point” might be a full 9 – 12 months after that, when results can be compared to the previous year.
  • The “Expiration Point” may be a year after that.

As best you can, map out these points so you have a sense of when your client might be in that critical attribution phase.

2. Set the Stage From the Beginning

Two of the most important questions you can ask a new customer during the onboarding phase/right before the “Approval Point”:

  • “How will you be tracking results?”, and
  • “How will you know our engagement is a success?”

It’s a challenge to the customer to make sure they’re tracking results, and a chance for you to find out how you’ll be evaluated so that when you hit a milestone, you’ll know the time is right.

That’s only the beginning, though. There are two more ways to set the stage and prime the client to share their success story later on: The “Contract + Incentive”, or the “Feedback Loop”.

At Case Study Buddy we prefer the latter, but I’ll explain both since both can work.

The Contract + Incentive 

Offer your client an incentive to make a case study a contractual obligation from the start.

That might mean a reduction in your fee or an expanded level of service. It’s a “we’ll scratch your back, you scratch ours” type of relationship.

You can also go without the incentive – but keep in mind, a case study is a favor from your client.

The important thing is that this has to be contractually binding so you don’t wind up cutting yourself short and getting nothing in return.

On the positive side, this shows your client that you have skin in the game from the beginning and will work to make them a success story. But on the other hand, here’s why I strongly recommend approaching this with caution:

  • In the beginning, the client is likely unsure about what you’ll be able to deliver and worried that results won’t be worth sharing.
  • The client has absolutely nothing to use as ammunition if they need to get others to approve. Those they answer to are unlikely to sign on the dotted line unless the incentive is significant.
  • There’s always the possibility of things getting complicated later on, and you being left hung out to dry. The relationship could sour, or legal could reconsider.

This strategy may be better applied when you’re dealing with a contract renewal instead of a brand new contract, since there’s some familiarity there.

However, the best way to go at this is to test it. Include clauses in your existing contracts outlining the desire to share results, the boundaries for this sharing (use cases, sensitive data, etc.) and the approval process (always let the client know they have control).

The “Feedback Loop” 

Instead of agreeing to a case study, let your client know that every quarter (or appropriate period for your business) you’ll contact them with a short customer feedback survey.

Then, every quarter (or appropriate period), send them this survey:

  • On a scale of 1 – 10, how likely would you be to recommend our product/service to a friend?
    If they respond a 9 or higher, the survey continues:
  • What has been the most positive part of working with us so far?
  • What notable results have you seen over the last quarter?
  • What could we do better?

This is absurdly easy to do with a solution like Typeform (which we love), since you can use Logic Mapping to have the questions progress based on responses.

Not only does this help you identify solid candidates for case studies on an ongoing basis, it also does the important job of making feedback a regular and anticipated part of your client relationship.

You’re “training” your clients to respond, so when you drop the case study bomb, they’re primed for that request.

What if you have a shorter buying cycle, like a home renovator?

While a “Net Promoter Score” style survey may not work as well for you, it’s still absolutely a tool you can use at the close-out of a project – then follow up with a survey later on to ask about their experiences and level of satisfaction with the delivered result.

Smart car salesmen, for example, have made a habit of following up even months after the initial sale on a regular schedule – not to pester the customer, but to demonstrate they care about the customers’ outcomes.

3. Wait for the “Attribution Point” before making your ask.

It’s easy to get excited at the first sign of results, but we’ve routinely seen our client’s customers deny requests for case studies during the first quarter of a relationship because it’s too early for them to share with confidence.

Often, they’re still ramping up or haven’t even fully implemented all parts of the solution.

You need to give your client enough time to progress naturally through the before/during/after stages of their story and let them have an experience with your offering.

When your client reports a “9” on the “Likely to recommend” scale and has measurable results they can point to, that’s your moment to strike.

You can use your “Implementation Point” as a permission point where, instead of asking for a case study right then and there, you request permission to follow up with your client in “X” amount of time to see how things are going.

At that point, they expect follow up and may be more deliberate about documenting their experience – or just keep you top of mind.

It’s all about timing.

Make collecting feedback a regular part of your process, and you’ll be able to tell when the moment is right to make your ask.

Don’t have a system in place for that? Case Study Buddy can build you one!

Contact us today – we’d love to chat about how we can help you find great candidates for case studies among your existing clients, and show you how we approach them in a way that’s more likely to get a “Yes”.

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